By ANN ROSENBERG
Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington:
The 27-metre-tall cone tilted at 17 degrees and covered with diamond-shaped plates of stainless steel is visible from several downtown perspectives. It is the much talked about landmark and crowning feature of the Museum of Glass (MOG) in Tacoma, WA. It was designed by architect Arthur Erickson.
When a photograph of the structure while under construction was reproduced in a 2002 Museum of Glass bulletin, architecture aficionados would have recognized that this robust framework was reminiscent of the 400-metre tall leaning tower conceptualized by Vladimir Tatlin as his 1920 Monument to the Third International. At a more basic level, as Erickson stated in Architecture Week in October of that year, his tower is "a nod to the former sawdust burners of the region's lumber mills." Traditional burners, unlike Erickson's cone, were typically clad with sheets of iron not stainless steel.
Before entering the Hot Shop Amphitheatre beneath the centre of the cone, where glass is blown most afternoons in front of a live audience and broadcast live on the Internet, there are exhibits to view in the Grand Hall by local and international artists as well as pieces from the Permanent Collection. But the climax of the experience will be sitting in a red plush chair within the soaring interior of the cone in a loge-like box. From that safe perch, the skilful and dangerous actions of the teams of highly-skilled glass artists who twirl, blow, cool and reheat globules of molten glass are as mesmerizing to witness as any operatic sword fight.
Only from the inside can the amazing structural supports and wigwam-like ceiling of the dome be fully appreciated. Erickson's Museum of Glass was realized in collaboration with Nick Milkovich Architects of Vancouver, British Columbia and Thomas Cook Reed Reinvald of Tacoma. Within Ericksons oeuvre, the outermost sheath of the gently curved oval shape of the Roy Thompson Concert Hall in Toronto, Ontario (designed by Erickson in 1976 with Mather & Haldenby) is the most obvious precursor to the tilted cone of the Museum of Glass.
Other aspects of the Museum's formal plazas, banks of concrete stairs and the reflecting pools found at several levels are traits of the architects aesthetic which date back to 1963, when the firm of Erickson Massey designed Burnabys Simon Fraser University campus. At the MOG these design aspects ensure that the edifice will be a fluid, unfolding surprise as the visitor is drawn to explore each storey.
From the opening of the Museum in 2002 until July 2008, Buster Simpson's Incidence (2002) was installed in the uppermost pool. Its 38 4-foot by 8-foot panels of thick plate glass (arranged in a saw-like configuration) makes a perfect complement to Erickson's pure and poetic edifice. In March of 2009 Martin Blank's Fluent Steps was permanently installed in the Main Plaza reflecting pool.
The MOG is located on Dock Street near the Thea Foss waterway. The Chihuly Bridge of Glass, designed by Austin-based architect Arthur Andersson of Andersson-Wise Architects and legendary glass artist Dale Chihuly, links the MOG with other faclities in the developing cultural district that features educational institutions, museums and galleries.
Arthur Erickson, who died on May 20 in Vancouver, will be chiefly remembered in Tacoma by virtue of one of his most beautifully conceived cultural amenities.
Ann Rosenberg is a freelance curator, critic and author.